The people who populate the documentary “Finders Keepers” might look like the people from a reality show in the rural South. But if you hope for moments of YouTube-worthy laughs at their expense, look elsewhere. Directors Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel are not interested in allowing the audience to look down at their subjects.
Instead, they request and allow empathy for folks who might otherwise get derided as a circus-like sideshow. And given the dispute they document, this is a lofty task. Small-town North Carolina dweller Shannon Whisnant just thought he bought a grill at a flea market, but when he opened it up, he also found a human foot. To say he gets more than he bargained for is an understatement.
The foot is not just any human foot but one that belongs to a still-living person, John Wood, who ambles now with a prosthetic. He wants the amputated limb back, though not for the reason anyone would expect. Wood lost the foot in a plane crash that also took the life of his father, so it represents the last little bit of him that he can keep on earth. For many filmmakers, this anecdote might be played for laughs or scorn. In “Finders Keepers,” however, Wood’s story gets to play as sincere as he means it.
Whisnant does not oblige his request, invoking the legal concept of finders keepers and ginning up the kind of local broadcast publicity that would make any low-polling Republican presidential candidate green with envy. Once the tussle gets settled (by Judge Mathis, no less), the rest of the film lacks the same level of intrigue. Without the foot to drive a wedge between the principal personalities and represent a microcosm of their differences, Whisnant and Wood are not nearly as compelling to observe. But the first hour of “Finders Keepers” deserves lauding for its relatively radical humanism towards people who usually receive little of it. B /